Conjure One has captured the essence of world beat music in their self-titled offering. It weaves trance-like structures and pop conventionalities with more than simply the melodies and instruments of other cultures. He has captured the romantic myth of dark foreign lands that drew our forefathers to roam the enclaves of the dessert; as seductive and hypnotizing as the yearning of a Bedouin dessert for rain.
Even though most world beat offerings are simply a patchwork of cultural folk music, this mixes the contemporary structures of fine-crafted western music with not only the indigenous offerings middle-eastern cultures through lyric and instrument, but captures their deeper imagery.
Damascus, featuring Isreali vocalist Chedra, begins like an Imam's call across lonely dessert plains while the winds of dusk take off the burning of the day. Melancholy. Yearning. And it end shortly, like a dream remembered. More of a prelude, than a complete song. It frames the beginning perfectly. Center of the Sun, featuring Poe, the first song full offering on the album begins like the gentle pulling-back of a musical veil, complete with a psycho-acoustic hint of falling water. It is as gentle as Enigma through the verses, feeling almost fragile, strengthening through the choruses. Using English lyrics and vocals, it still holds imageries of the market and romance, that, when framed within the greater context, creates a vision of a sand-swept square and not a rainy bleary European city center. Following is Tears From the Moon. More western in style than the rest, it is a bittersweet song of love and longing. The most western song on the album for its use of pop formula it suffers in that it could have been better. With Sinead O'Connor as the vocalist falling short of what it could be means its better than most.
Tidal Pool uses ambient sounds of the rain forest, or even an oasis, and serves as the gateway for the subsequent tracks that grow more eclectically mixed with culture. A gentle song with great rhythm. Manic Star brings us back to the opening motif of a call across lonely dessert plains, that becomes a strong dance beat that feels like the frenetic plod or silky flight across plains beneath a midday sun. The vocals on this offering are some of the finest on the album, which is saying something.
For the pure dark, seductive and sinister imagery of forbidden love in the shadow of a pre-PFC Lawrence Akaba or Cairo, Redemption has woven a mixture of older and newer cultures to make this the musically strongest here. It is as musically masterful as Sting's Dessert Rose without its failings. It builds to a rhythmic crescendo slowly, and almost without notice, sliding from the musical motifs of an ancient Arabia, to undertones of pipe organs and large halls. Years does with middle-eastern flavors what Enigma did with the harmony of fourths and Gregorian Chants in creating musical environments equally hypnotic and dreamlike. This slides nicely to Make a Wish, which takes this a step further with gentle female vocals. Hot, with more steam than smoke. Pandora is an infectious large tune, more of a soundtrack demanding vivid colors, relentless as the whiling of a Dervish. It is where the independent cultures that influenced Conjure One are most pronounced.
The most trancelike offering is Sleep, following perfectly in the album's progression that has crafted as dreamlike a warmth as dry sands beneath the stars remembering the rains. For as strange a title as Premonition is for a reprise, it is fitting as this album opens doors of experience, creating beginnings, not simply creating an album of music that leads to an ending.
Rhys Fulber's pedigree, coming from bands such as Front Line Assembly and Delerium(*), and having worked with the likes of Fear Factory and Sarah MacLachlin, could allow him to do an entire spoken word album of name-dropping if he wished. He could easily continue to rehash his ground-breaking industrial work for the rest of his career, as many have done.
Conjure One is a touchstone of musical maturity and craftsmanship, not only showcasing Rhys's progression but his ability to select and facilitate diverse collaboration to create something, although not uniquely new, but that raises the bar for everyone. And I mean everyone. Its weaker points are its more western-rooted offerings. Although they are a mark above most, they could be more. This is only apparent when pared against other offerings like Center of the Sun and Make a Wish.
For its globe-trotting and soul searching it can be compared to Stewart Copeland's The Rhythmatist, but with far better results. For its approach to the use of cultural collaborations it can be compared easily to Paul Simon's Graceland or the works of Sting and Peter Gabriel. This is what is lost on reviewers like Kim Hughes who said of Conjure One, "When it comes to popular music, a proven formula is a safer bet than chancing something new". If Rhys has the ability to compile the lineup of contributors that appears on Conjure One, he could easily have made something crafted purely to be MTV palatable, or to be made for reviewers of mass-genre sales. This is something better, wider, and brighter than any of that.
(*) Delerium's debut Poem was reviewed in Legends #110.
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